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Geoffrey

licensed vs original music

14 posts in this topic

Hi,

I'm debating whether to hire a musician to make original music for my game, or just use free or cheaply licensed music such as you might find at sites like these:
http://indiegamemusic.com/
http://www.mattmcfarland.com/
http://luckylionstud...-music-library/

Original music is obviously 'better' in the sense that it should be a better fit for the game, and people won't have heard it before. However my budget is limited (I can afford to spend a few hundred pounds) and I'm not sure what quality I can expect for that kind of money. Musicians seem to be very shy about what they charge.

Please share your thoughts and experiences!

PS: this is the game I'm working on: 'The Trouble with Robots' http://www.digitalch...uble/index.html

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Well, you sort of answered your question yourself -- licensed music is naturally at a loss vs. original scoring. It doesn't hurt to shop around and see what you can find and at the same time seeing what composers would be willing to score for you -- you might find talent out there with spare time in need of some change willing to do a good job for cheap; just beware bottom feeders, they aren't exactly all that great!

I guess what I'm trying to say "it never hurts to try" and that you can pursue both options without losing much else but a bit of your time (which is a precious commodity, but I'm sure you've got [i]some [/i]to spare). If you have to pick licensed, go with the best tunes you can find and try to match it to the gameplay as best you can -- nothing worse than a cheesy "elevator-style" music playing in a fast-paced arcade shooter!

Best of luck! :)
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Hey there,
Looks like a neat game you're working on!

I agree with DarklyDreaming, go for original music.
Depending on what you need, a few hundred pounds could be enough to get you some nice professional custom tunes.

Cheers,
Moritz

(Psssst... I offer discounts to start-ups. Check out the reel on [url="http://www.moritzpgkatz.de"]my website[/url] and shoot me a mail or PM if you're interested.)
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No reason you can't use a mix of both.

The previous game I made, I paid a composer $70 to make the soundtrack (7-9 songs, iirc). I got a really good deal because he was offering his services cheap [i]and[/i] he was surprisingly good. Really good. I ended up paying him more than he asked, ending up giving him about $120 or $150. But, I wouldn't pay more than $15-20 for anything 3 1/2 minutes or less, but other than that one developer (who was offering his songs for $5 as a promotion) I don't know what the going market rates are.

For my current game, I'm going to use a mixture of original work and freely available online resources. A friend is making part of the soundtrack for free, as an experience-gaining project. However, I expect to shell out a couple hundred USD for professional work as well to fill in the gaps. I can then see what actually works best for my game, trying different things in-game.

It's good to have multiple different sources of resources you can pull from. Create a library of resources for your game projects. Also, when your project is complete, consider releasing any of the resources that you own the rights to, so other indie developers or hobbyists can benefit ([size="1"]Note: chances are, even if you pay a professional, you don't own the rights to the music (unless your agreement says otherwise), but that which you [i]do[/i] own, by all means share it a year or two after your game is released if you can - I plan to with my resources[/size]).

Another thing is, if you work with a composer and have gotten good results, establish a relationship with that composer by continuing to go to him first when you need something. It'll benefit him and benefit you, as he'll work harder to please you, and you'll give him more business by offering him the option of first refusal, plus, as you build up a relationship, you're more likely to recommend the composer to others as well, giving free advertising by word-of-mouth.
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[quote name='Servant of the Lord' timestamp='1323213900' post='4891261']
The previous game I made, I paid a composer $70 to make the soundtrack (7-9 songs, iirc). I got a really good deal because he was offering his services cheap [i]and[/i] he was surprisingly good. Really good. I ended up paying him more than he asked, ending up giving him about $120 or $150. But, I wouldn't pay more than $15-20 for anything 3 1/2 minutes or less. [/quote]
While it's nice of you to pay more and it may be true that you can make a lucky catch finding someone building his/her portfolio who's willing to work for cheap - I don't need a calculator to know that no one who's actually trying to make a living producing music will work for that price. It takes some hours to make a track (how many, depends on a few factors including genre and if instruments need to be recorded), and hardware/software/studio rooms aren't free either. You might take that into consideration when you're thinking of a fair rate for a professional composer.
Of course, there's nothing wrong working with hobbyist musicians and paying them only a small fee.

[quote]Another thing is, if you work with a composer and have gotten good results, establish a relationship with that composer by continuing to go to him first when you need something. It'll benefit him and benefit you, as he'll work harder to please you, and you'll give him more business by offering him the option of first refusal, plus, as you build up a relationship, you're more likely to recommend the composer to others as well, giving free advertising by word-of-mouth.[/quote]
This is a good point - and a good reason to chose someone who's going to stick with doing music full-time, if you have the budget.
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[quote name='Moritz P.G. Katz' timestamp='1323215368' post='4891268']
[quote name='Servant of the Lord' timestamp='1323213900' post='4891261']
The previous game I made, I paid a composer $70 to make the soundtrack (7-9 songs, iirc). I got a really good deal because he was offering his services cheap [i]and[/i] he was surprisingly good. Really good. I ended up paying him more than he asked, ending up giving him about $120 or $150. But, I wouldn't pay more than $15-20 for anything 3 1/2 minutes or less. [/quote]
While it's nice of you to pay more and it may be true that you can make a lucky catch finding someone building his/her portfolio who's willing to work for cheap - I don't need a calculator to know that no one who's actually trying to make a living producing music will work for that price. It takes some hours to make a track (how many, depends on a few factors including genre and if instruments need to be recorded), and hardware/software/studio rooms aren't free either. You might take that into consideration when you're thinking of a fair rate for a professional composer.
Of course, there's nothing wrong working with hobbyist musicians and paying them only a small fee.[/quote]
That's true, you pay for quality... but you also have to watch out for musicians who think they are quality composers and charge quality prices but aren't (but you are right that you also need to watch out even more about wasting $25 on a song that completely sucks, when you could have paid $50 or more to a professional and got a quality piece without wasting anything).
But I'm talking about non-exclusive licenses for indie developers. I agree that exclusive licenses should cost much more (several hundred, I'd guess - but I openly admit I wouldn't know the market price); and developers with established reputations and quality are worth the prices they charge (otherwise they'd be out of business).

Looking around the net and the prices people charge, why would I pay [u]more than[/u] $25 for an unproven composer, when I can pay $25 for an equally unproven composer? But once you find someone who you know is worth it, who stands out as better then the crowd (from their demo reels or from past experience with them), then keep that composer in mind and continue to work with him, even if he charges higher prices then the average. But until you know for sure someone is better than average, don't pay them more than average!

It's kinda hard to work out in my own mind what is 'fair' when my budget is small. I implicitly want to be as cheap as possible without cheating anyone; but I also want support and cultivate good relationships with those I work with. Finding a good balance there is hard for me, personally. Better err on the side of good relationships, and be a few dollars shorter, I suppose.

This might be a hot topic for composers - the huge number of poor quality musicians charging low prices pulling everyone else's prices lower - just as much as the huge number of iPhone apps and other cheap indie games driving game prices lower is a hot issue for game developers - so I somewhat understand where you're coming from. [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/mellow.gif[/img]
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I had hoped you'd put in a word or two, Nate. Couldn't agree more with everything you wrote.


Cheers,
Moritz
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Thanks for all the suggestions. And so begins my campaign of spamming musicians... :wink:

I'll let you know what happens.
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[quote name='nsmadsen' timestamp='1323238315' post='4891362']
Especially for exclusive rights. Even $100 per minute (or heck PER song as mentioned above) is still drastically below industry standard rates even for non-exclusive rights.[/quote]
Can you clue us in to what (approximately) industry standard rates are for non-exclusive rights? I have friends who work in film scoring, and my impression is that in that field, $1,000/minute is on the low end...
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[quote name='nsmadsen' timestamp='1323238315' post='4891362']
I think one of the real issues is that many young(er) game developers have no idea what pro-level (or even decent level) audio really costs and then experience sticker shock when they come across someone who does charge close to or at industry standard rates. [/quote]
Absolutely... but it's not totally our fault, as the real composers don't post their prices or even estimations, so you can't plan for it too well. Only once you're ready to buy music, then you ask the composer, and after your heart attack, you realize that [i]that[/i] composer is out of your range by a great deal. But that still doesn't give you a clue about what any of the [i]other [/i]composers charge, and you don't even have a clue if that estimation was in-line-with, less-than, or greater-than, what others of similar quality charge.

The only numbers I see, as a programmer/developer, are from the budget composers who offer their work for $5 bucks a song (even [i]with [/i]exclusive rights and ownership), or the bulk websites selling already-made songs for $5-$10. So, I have to guess what a non-budget composer would charge, to plan ahead (I don't want to bother the composers a year in advance of when I need the music... but I do have to budget a year in advance for when I purchase it).
If a cheap composer charges $5 or $10 a song, I think, "Hey, I bet the average is around $20 a song (non-exclusive)". And then I further have to extrapolate (again from a complete void of available info), "I bet the professionals, being much better, probably charge double, triple or even quadruple for a song!", which is about $50-$100. You tell me I'm still way short. Good to know! But I still don't know what to expect... and I still don't have good info.

[quote name='nsmadsen' timestamp='1323238315' post='4891362']
You're going to buy a new TV. Which one are you going to pick:

A) The $6,000 Sony model
B) The $50 "Wonder TV!!!" model
C) The $800 LG model

Most would pick C because the price is high but not super expensive. It's affordable with some budgeting. A few might shoot for the $6,000 model if they're well off or just super fanatical about TVs. Very few would pick the $50 bargin brand model because you pay for what you get.[/quote]

It depends what you need it for. I'd buy the $800 LG, but I'd buy the exact same TV for $600 when I find a good deal. But I also buy $120-$150 computer monitors that are smaller in size, because I'm using it for a different purpose. As an indie developer, making indie games, I can't afford the triple-A studio music budgets, and my game isn't a triple-A game... so when starting out small, I get a $120 monitor, because the need is different. When starting out, professional quality music is the least of your concerns. When the quality of your games rise, then you should also increase the quality of the music you purchase.

[quote][quote]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][left]But until you know for sure someone is better than average, don't pay them more than average![/left][/size][/color][/quote]

This is an interesting comment. How are you supposed to know if someone is better than average or not when first starting out? I set up the terms and rates before beginning any work with a new client. Sure, I can throw out a small sample if requested but even then I may charge a small fee to cover my time on the sample. And of course I always provide plenty of references, demo pieces and quotes from other clients/peers to show the type of work I do.[/quote]
Demo-reels exactly can show the quality. Quotes from satisfied customers can help, but I wouldn't count on them unless I recognized the name or studio of the person being quoted.

When writing the previous post, I had exactly you in mind as a 'professional quality composer', because I've listened numerous times to your demo reel, and infact sometimes spontaneously check your site to see what new music you created or to re-listen to some of your songs. As a non-musician who has difficulty determining what is good music and what is bad, that right there is a good sign to me. That, and the fact that your studio is the only music studio name I have unintentionally memorized.

I most certainly would pay you a higher price for your tracks and you most certainly should charge higher prices... but I wont hire you at the present time, because my games at this point are lower budget. When [u]my own[/u] skill level has increased the quality of my games, then I'll also seek higher quality artists and higher quality composers, and am willing to pay higher prices for that. I'm not going to invest higher budgets for my games until the quality of my games themselves are worth the higher budgets. Not that my games are crap, mind you, or that I'm doing a sloppy or makeshift job on them - I'm doing my best on them - but they are certainly rough around the edges as I'm learning better programming and better game design skills.

When my games are of a more professional quality, and not just a beginner starting out, I'll pay professional prices for professional music. While I'm investing my time and skills and passion in a good game, I'll pay good prices for good music from a composer that invests his time and passion and skills in good music. I have to make profit off of my game after all, and it wouldn't be smart to invest heavily in music to a greater degree then the expected sales of the game.

[quote][quote]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][left]It's kinda hard to work out in my own mind what is 'fair' when my budget is small. I implicitly want to be as cheap as possible without cheating anyone; but I also want support and cultivate good relationships with those I work with. Finding a good balance there is hard for me, personally. Better err on the side of good relationships, and be a few dollars shorter, I suppose.[color="#000000"][size="3"][/quote][/size][/color][/left][/size][/color]It [i]is [/i]an interesting problem. Perhaps offer what you can as a flat rate for X work done then offer Y % of any sales profits for the game. This way if the game is a huge smash, the composer can make more just like the rest of the team can. And if the game doesn't make any money, the composer can still know X amount of cash will have been paid.[/quote]
That's a good idea, and one I've considered, but it's not my preferred choice. It complicates things. In 10 years from now, if a single copy of one of my old games is sold, I still have to remember to give 10% to the composer, 5% to the writer, 15% to the two artists.

I could offer the first Y% of sales only for a specific time-frame (The first two launch weeks of sales, the first year of sales, etc...), that way it's not an indefinite budget complication but a short-term one.
Alternatively, I could offer the first X amount of profit earned goes to the composer, before I see any profit myself - and that seems reasonable to me, and appeals alot more.

But as the game developer, ideally it should be me taking the risk of the game, not the contractors. I shouldn't pay people with promises, but pay them out of pocket or not hire them at all - especially in an unpredictable market (indie game sales). If I don't have the money, I shouldn't buy the goods; if I need the goods and don't have the money, then I have to make due with the budget goods I [i]can[/i] afford.

[quote]If you plan on being a long term developer (either indie or triple A or somewhere in between) then do some research on the market. Find out from other developers that you trust and know what they've paid for audio work. Heck, this works for ALL disciplines.[/quote]
That's a very good idea - I'll make a note to do that, thanks!

[quote]And if you find someone great that does wonderful work, meets deadlines and is easy to work with - do [u]whatever[/u] is needed to keep working with that person. At the end of the day not having to worry about missed deadlines or crap music or missing the vision of the game is WELL worth the extra dough.[/quote]
Fully agree with that.
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And Geoffrey - sorry to sorta hijack the thread. In my experience it's always best to start working and interfacing with freelancers (of any discipline) and creating a team because you'll develop relationships with content creators faster and build people skills. Managing a team of freelancers especially when they're working remotely takes a special set of skills and approaches. Simply buying music from an a la carte method website doesn't provide any of that for you. Sure it may be cheaper but if your long term goal is to create games and manage a team helping you make those games - hiring freelancers now will get you there faster.

Plus if you do a great job managing the team and getting the project done you'll have more word-of-mouth praising you and your work which is the best kind of advertising to have!

Finally - the game looks really cool! Nice visual style! Best of luck!
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Thanks for all the help. And the result - after many enquiries I have a musician to do original title music (at least) for The Trouble With Robots.

The amount musicians charge really does vary greatly, I received offers everywhere from free to around £500 per minute of finished music. I learned to think hard about how much music I actually need, for example the difference between five 3 minute tracks and five 1 minute tracks by these price models is huge!

Most of that price range was occupied by professionals, with extensive and diverse portfolios, who could clearly produce music to a consistently high quality. Many of them offered reduced rates to indie developers, so I'd say it's worth contacting them if you're not sure.

At lower rates I found fresher faces, enthusiastic and in many cases extremely talented musicians who are either hobbyists or are trying to break into the industry. Some are more interested in getting their name onto games than they are in financial compensation. I suspect this is a much riskier choice, but judged well your music could be every bit as good for a fraction of the price.

Then there's 'royalty free' licensed music. There's plenty of it out there at very reasonable prices (in most cases), and some of it is excellent. But be prepared to spend many hours sorting through it if you want a chance of finding something that both fits your needs and is of high quality.

---

Finally, thanks for all the positive comments about my game. I've made a Facebook page for it now:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Trouble-With-Robots/285075818204908
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